Tag Archives: Alain Baroja

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (8 June 2017)

Again somewhat overshadowed by events in South Korea, Venezuela’s makeshift senior national side have nevertheless just concluded their two-stop American tour…

International Friendly

Thursday 8 June 2017 – FAU Stadium, Boca Ratón, Florida, USA

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 8 June 2017 (YouTube)

Moreno’s Magic Ends Things All-Square In Florida

Venezuela’s brief American tour ended with Júnior Moreno’s first-half goal earning them a second consecutive draw in a game which began fairly lively though petered out in the last half-hour.

Both sides had their moments in the early exchanges, with Venezuelan right-back Alexander González striking the top of the crossbar with a phenomenal 12th-minute strike from over 30 yards out on the inside-right.

However, the pacy and powerful Ecuadorians combined with more success during this period and were to enjoy the better of the opportunities. Indeed, in the 5th minute, Cristian Ramírez dinked in a cross from the left which Marcos Caicedo headed with great intent but too close to goalkeeper José Contreras who nevertheless did well to pull off a crucial close-range block. In the 20th minute, there were two moments of note: first, Caicedo ran forward before passing to Enner Valencia in a promising position on the left, yet his low ball into the rather spacious box was knocked away. Soon afterwards, a team-mate struck an effort from outside the area which Contreras comfortably got down to.

Then, three minutes later Ecuador had the ball in the back of the net after some fine flank-work from Caicedo on the left, following which he drilled in a low ball that Valencia stabbed home – only to be flagged offside. However, La Tricolor were not to be denied for long as, in the 28th minute, another low cross in from Caicedo ended up in the back of the net – that is, after being unfortunately converted by Venezuelan centre-back Mikel Villanueva for an own goal. 1-0.

Following this opener, Ecuador had a couple more half-chances, though Venezuela gradually got upfield more frequently, though most of their forays involved crosses, particularly from Rómulo Otero, which evading those in the middle by a whisker. Nevertheless, they managed to return affairs to level terms in the 42nd minute after another cross without contact went over to the right, where Arquímedes Figuera then passed to Júnior Moreno. From an inside-right position just outside of the area, the Zulia man impressed for his second successive Vinotinto game, by striking a fantastic right-footed effort that went in off the far post to make it 1-1.

Following the interval, most of the – rather limited – action was confined to the opening fifteen minutes or so. From the Venezuelan side of things, Salomón Rondón fluffed his lines a few times, thus continuing his rather underwhelming form in 2017 – just the one goal at international level plus another for West Brom so far. First in the 50th minute, after a fine run by Jhon Murillo down the right into the area which saw the Tondela loanee bypass a couple of opponents along the way, the ball was played back for Rondón in an inviting central position, but his shot was badly screwed wide. Similarly, five minutes later, the striker was found via a fine deep pass from González, yet somehow was unable to make a connection with the ball. Later on in the 61st minute, Rondón was again played through and had a partial sight of goal within the area. However, once more, he misdirected his effort wide.

In between as well as after this trio of chances, Venezuela goalkeeper Alain Baroja – who was substituted on at half-time, thus heralding his international return following an exile of over 14 months – made some decent contributions. First, in the 53rd minute, Valencia did well to nutmeg Villanueva on the left before coming into the area, one-on-one, yet his shot was blocked by the trailing arm/right-side of Baroja; Venezuela thus narrowly dealt with the resulting corner. Then, some seven minutes later, the goalkeeper did well to race out and beat an attacker who was threatening to reach the forward ball.

Otherwise, in the remaining 30 minutes, little of note occurred aside from the minor matter of Venezuela’s Andrés Ponce being slid through on the inside-right in the 72nd minute and taking a surprise shot that whistled a yard or so wide of the target.

Overall, whilst neither this nor the previous game with the USA will live long in the mind of any fan, perhaps acting manager Marcos Mathías and Under-20 World Cup finalist Rafael Dudamel, will have learned a thing or two. Indeed, with eyes very much on the future consideration of qualification for Qatar 2022, the international credentials of 23-year-old Júnior Moreno, in particular, have surely been bolstered.

Team Selections

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): E. Dreer; P. Velasco, D. Aimar, G. Achilier, C. Ramírez; P. Quiñónez, M. Oyola (F. Gaibor, 46′); Á. Mena (A. Preciado, 72′), J. Cazares (G. Cortéz, 79′), M. Caicedo; E. Valencia (J. Cifuentes, 88′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras (A. Baroja, 46′); A. González, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva (Y. Osorio, 68′), R. Feltscher (R. Quijada, 84′); J. Murillo, J. Moreno (F. Flores, 63′), A. Figuera, J. Kouffaty (A. Ponce, 55′); S. Rondón & R. Otero (D. Machís, 77′).

Darren Spherical


Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2017 Preview

At the end of April, two friendlies were announced to aid La Vinotinto‘s preparations for a more prosperous future, though now in early June, most Venezuelan minds are focused elsewhere. Here, the beleaguered @DarrenSpherical takes a quick look at the squad preparing to face the USA and Ecuador…

International Friendlies

Saturday 3 June 2017 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

USA vs Venezuela

Thursday 8 June 2017 – FAU Stadium, Boca Ratón, Florida

Ecuador vs Venezuela


Venezuela assistant manager, Marcos Mathías (GettyImages)

Places Up For Grabs in the States

Since La Vinotinto‘s last pair of disappointing outings in March, the FVF have managed to cobble together two warm-up games before the team concludes their depressing World Cup Qualifying campaign later this year.

However, coach Rafael Dudamel will not be overseeing these two America-based encounters as he is currently in South Korea where he has led his remarkable Under-20 squad to the Quarter-finals of the World Cup. Indeed, the head-turning Sub-20 side have won all four of their games without conceding a goal and their do-or-die clash with USA’s youngsters shall commence barely two hours after the seniors of both nations have duked it out in Salt Lake City.

Thus, assistant manager Marcos Mathías will instead be leading this still-rather-youthful 27-man squad into battle in the States and will have to make do without the likes of Wuilker Faríñez, Yangel Herrera, Adalberto Peñaranda and Yeferson Soteldo. At least three, if not all, of these players – as well as some others currently in South Korea – have strong chances of being regulars in a future rebuilt Venezuela on the road to Qatar 2022 and there are several, more senior, players who have also not made the trip.

Most significantly, the captain Tomás Rincón will be somewhat preoccupied with the small matter of the Cardiff-hosted Champions League Final which his Juventus will contest against Real Madrid. One wonders how many Venezuelans will have the stamina to watch this game, plus the first senior friendly some five hours later and then the Under-20 knock-out tie.

There are again no places in the squad for the Málaga pair of Juanpi and Roberto Rosales. Regarding the former, who has recently been spotted in his home country participating in political demonstrations, he has had an injury-plagued 2017 though when he recuperates he will surely be welcomed back to the fold with open arms. However, this is something that is difficult to assert regarding Rosales – who has also made his anti-government sentiments known – as, though he is currently also carrying a knock, he was also surprisingly left out of March’s World Cup Qualifying double-header despite being fully fit.

Another absentee is forward Josef Martínez (Atalanta United), who was injured against Peru three months ago and has yet to resurface on a professional pitch – though he is apparently knocking on the door for a return at club level. Otherwise, as he was in March, goalkeeper Dani Hernández is again left out, though this is probably due to him still being involved in Tenerife’s vital promotion push. Also, possibly owing to some poor performances for the national team, there is no place for Terek Grozny’s Wilker Ángel.

One says “probably” and “possibly” because there has not been a great deal of press coverage for these two games, with Mathías/Dudamel’s plans shrouded in secrecy and/or a yawning cloud of indifference.

Still, what can be said is that there is a surprise return to the squad for Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) who, some two years ago had looked as if he could be Venezuela’s number one goalkeeper for the long haul yet, after some galling errors, was banished into international exile. This is his first-ever call-up in Dudamel’s 14-month reign.

There are also a fair few players in this squad who ply their trade in the domestic league, such as striker Edder Farías, who has scored 22 times in his last 37 league matches for Caracas FC. It would be greatly beneficial for Venezuela to have more options up top for when Martínez and/or West Brom’s Salomón Rondón – who has also been included – are unavailable. Farías could well provide one possible alternative though another possibility is 20-year-old Jefferson Savarino, a more versatile forward/attacking-midfielder, who was banging in the goals for Zulia until recently moving on loan to the MLS with Real Salt Lake. Who knows, for the USA game at the Rio Tinto Stadium, there may even be a few locals in the stands on hand to give him a wave, if not a cheer.

Otherwise, one can not help but feel these games are good opportunities for some of the more experienced-yet-still-relatively-young individuals to further entrench themselves in the coaching staff’s thinking following their appearances in March’s qualifiers. Perhaps chief amongst this crop are the likes of attacking-midfielders Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal) and Rómulo Otero** (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil on loan from Huachipato, Chile).

Ultimately, though one is not anticipating a vintage set of clashes on American soil, with almost every first-team place seemingly up for grabs – barring Rincón’s and Rondón’s – these are undoubtedly good chances for these players to make it hard for Dudamel, Mathías and co. to overlook them come August.

To keep up-to-date with these two friendly encounters, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match reports and highlights.

Venezuela Squad


Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) & José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira).


Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Luis Marrufo (Mineros de Guayana), Yordan Osorio (Tondela, Portugal), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC), Jefre Vargas (Arouca, Portugal, on loan from Caracas), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) &  Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).


Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Jacobo Kouffati (Millonarios, Colombia), Francisco La Mantía (Deportivo La Guaira), Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia).


Edder Farías (Caracas FC), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo Alavés, Spain).

**Please note that, according to renowned journalist Juan Sifontes, the following players will not be available for the clash vs USA: Alexander González, Jhon Chancellor, Rolf Feltscher, Arquímedes Figuera, Alejandro Guerra, Jacobo Kouffati and Rómulo Otero.


(Source: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical


Peru 2-2 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (24 March 2016)

The fifth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the first point for Noel Sanvicente’s men, yet this will be of little comfort to fans who were seconds away from celebrating a morale-boosting win. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 24 March 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Lima, Lima

Peru 2-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Peru 2-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 24 March 2016 (YouTube)

Ruidíaz Denies Venezuela at the Death 

Match Report

With the last touch of the game, Raúl Ruidíaz rescued a Peruvian point and ruined what was so close to being a history-making night for Venezuela. 

La Vinotinto had never won a World Cup qualifier away in Peru (previously managing a solitary draw) and thus, having led 2-0 on the hour, were just half an hour away from an unanticipated morale boost. Alas, ultimately they failed to survive the onslaught by mere seconds.

Viewed as a whole with a detachment rarely found in the South American stands, Noel Sanvicente’s underperforming men were perhaps fortunate to even get a point from this game. However, upon the full-time whistle in Lima, this is not an opinion that many away fans would want to hear, let alone be in accord with.

Indeed, not only were they on the back-foot for the majority of the final third of the match but also for the first quarter, when the hosts – backed up by the urges and instruments of an expectant home crowd –  repeatedly exploited an inexperienced Venezuelan back-line. In the opening exchanges, Peru found a lot of space both in the middle and and on the flanks of a Venezuelan defence which, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo aside, had less than a dozen caps between them pre-game.

The first genuine scare of note came in the eighth minute when a ball was dinked over from the left into the area that Jefferson Farfán only narrowly failed to make strong contact with, instead scuffing wide. Not long afterwards, a cross from roaming right-back Luis Advíncula found Claudio Pizarro in space, but the veteran striker’s header was comfortable for goalkeeper Alain Baroja. Holes continued to be found that necessitated last-ditch tackles and blocks but it was in the 24th minute that Peru really should have taken the lead. Here, an appalling clearance from Ángel Faría – playing instead of the suspended right-back Roberto Rosales – went straight to Farfán who immediately fed Paolo Guerrero in the area. However, despite the time and space he was afforded, he was unable to divert the ball either side of Baroja, who instead made an instinctive block.

Yet, though a Peruvian opener seemed on the cards, the Venezuelans surprisingly began to get a foothold into the game, creating a string of chances. In the 26th minute, a counter-attack was spearheaded by Josef Martinez, who fed strike-partner Salomón Rondón on the left who, in turn, returned a point-perfect cross that Martinez volleyed, causing a fine save from Pedro Gallese. Three minutes later, Rondón himself had an opportunity, seizing upon a forward ball on the inside-right and hitting a low strike across goal that Gallese padded away. Then, a minute later, a free-kick from the returning Rómulo Otero – who had struggled with a couple of previous attempts – dipped just before Gallese, causing the Juan Aurich goalkeeper to awkwardly parry the ball out.

Soon after, however, the breakthrough that less than ten minutes prior seemed improbable occurred. Málaga midfielder Juanpi, who was making a rare international start and is poised to be a fixture in the line-up for the foreseeable future, burst into the area and was rashly upended for a penalty. Otero thus stepped up and confidently dispatched the spot-kick.

The previously boisterous home fans fell silent and several minutes later their representatives nearly fell another goal behind. This time, Juanpi swung in a free-kick that the head of centre-back Wilker Ángel powerfully connected with, yet Gallese pulled off a sensational save, preventing what seemed like a certain goal.

Subsequently, the hosts struggled to regain their earlier dominance, a situation that continued into the first quarter of the second half. Barely a minute after the restart, the visitors could have had a second when another Juanpi free-kick curled towards Vizcarrondo and Mikel Villanueva in considerable space, yet a lack of communication and/or anticipation led to the ball missing the target. Ten minutes later, however, the latter did manage to double the lead. After Juanpi won a corner, he swung in another pin-point cross that his Málaga team-mate Villanueva, unmarked at the back post, thundered home on the volley.

Elation spread amongst the Venezuelan ranks on the pitch, in the stands and at home. Not just the first point of the campaign, but three of the blighters seemed very much on the table begging to be collected, requiring only some professional shepherding over the finish line. Easier said than done, of course, and it did not take long for Los Incas to ground their briefly stratospheric opponents back on planet earth. Indeed, having come close just a minute after Villanueva’s goal, they halved the deficit a minute after the hour-mark. A long ball was knocked into the air and then headed on by recent substitute Raúl Ruidíaz into the path of Guerrero who did well to take the ball into his stride and then strike home – though goalkeeper Baroja really should not have allowed the ball past him. Though the Flamengo forward rushed to pick the ball out of the net in order to force a quick restart this was in fact a landmark moment for him, as he became Peru’s undisputed all-time top goalscorer.

This goal really swung the momentum pendulum back into the hosts’ favour and for the remainder of the game they were to increase the pressure on the visitors to what ultimately proved to be unbearable levels. Vinotinto nerves were certainly rattled in the 68th minute, though not as much as their own crossbar, which Guerrero nearly pulverised with a bullet header from a corner. Manager Sanvicente could sense as much as anyone that the winds had decisively changed and so made a double substitution a couple of minutes later. Not only did he grant Adalberto Peñaranda his debut (replacing Martínez) but he also took off creative catalyst Juanpi in order for his replacement Alejandro Guerra to add some defensive grit and experience to the ranks. 12 minutes later, following ever more narrow squeaks and uncertainty, Venezuela’s other main attacking threat Otero was withdrawn to be replaced by holding midfielder – and debutant – Carlos Cermeño.

Sanvicente was evidently trying to preserve his side’s slim advantage and bring some much-neeed order and organisation to what was a rather open game – albeit one with the ball largely in the Venezuelan half. When, in the last minute of regulation time, Edison Flores was fed a return-ball inside the area yet from close range could only hoist the ball over both Baroja and the bar, many a Vinotinto fan must have felt an historic win was all-but-assured.

Alas, concentration levels failed at the very last hurdle. After some attacks were momentarily thwarted, mental lapses afforded space on the left for Flores who compensated for his miss by providing a pinpoint cross for Ruidíaz, who slipped away from Ángel, to nod home.

The goal was literally the last touch of the match. The dejection in the Venezuelan camp did well to mask the fact that this was the first – and somewhat unanticipated – point that they had picked up. If they can overcome the late psychological blow, then the home humiliation against Chile on Tuesday that some have feared may not come to fruition after all.

Match Thoughts

Future Optimism: Three Stand-Ins Amongst the Best Performers 

Venezuela came into the game without several individuals who have started recent qualifying games. Some of these players were either suspended (Roberto Rosales, Luis Manuel Seijas and Sema Velázquez), left out the squad (Ronald Vargas, Christian Santos and Gabriel Cichero) or, in the case of at least one, started on the bench (Alejandro Guerra).

Some players who stepped in for rare starts impressed and should expect many more caps in the foreseeable future. Of these, Juanpi, who has emerged to become a La Liga regular this season, perhaps put in the strongest performance. Not only did he win the penalty for the first goal and set up Villanueva for the second but, were it not for the heroics of Gallese and a slight-mix-up between his team-mates, he could well have had a hat-trick of assists to his name. This was the first time he has started a competitive international and it certainly will not be the last.

Rómulo Otero, another versatile attacking midfielder and impressive set-piece taker, also made his mark. The 23-year-old has gained more caps than Juanpi but has struggled for international appearances over the past two years due to injury. Against Peru, he made a welcome return to the line-up, coolly slotting home a penalty kick, driving at defenders and causing problems from set-pieces. With regard to free-kicks at least, many fans have hoped that he would be the long-term successor to Juan Arango though, as this match demonstrates, while future opportunities are certainly on the cards, he will have some stiff competition in this department from his Málaga-based team-mate.

Mikel Villanueva, who like Juanpi is registered with Málaga but instead plays for their reserve side Atletico Malagaugeno, also had a game to remember. This was his second appearance following last month’s friendly debut and he not only scored a memorable thumping goal but came away with more credit than most of his defensive colleagues. With Fernando Amorebieta having retired, Andrés Túñez falling out of favour and Gabriel Cichero all but a nowhere man at club level, an opportunity has surely opened up at left-back.

Problems at the Back

Unfortunately, not all players who stepped in can be assured of future appearances after this international break. Right-back Ángel Faría and centre-back Wilker Ángel both played their parts in the concession of goals and were often caught out of position, struggling to keep up with the pace of play. Against Chile, they will more than likely be dropped in favour of Roberto Rosales and Sema Velázquez, both of whom will be returning from suspensions.

Furthermore, though a first-team regular and one less likely to lose his place on Tuesday (UPDATE (29/3/16): If reports are to believed, it looks like he has in fact lost his place), goalkeeper Alain Baroja nevertheless really needs to raise his game. Once again, he showed moments of uncertainty and was at fault for a goal – this time when he awkwardly allowed a fairly straightforward shot from Guerrero to creep under his ineffectual dive. Add this to his amateurish mix-up with Vizcarrondo for Paraguay’s late winner in October and his dreadful clearance against Ecuador in November that led to their second goal and this gives the average Venezuela fan quite the unwanted memory bank to hold against him.

Martínez Enhanced a Team That Now Has More Reasons to Feel Cheerful 

More positively, Josef Martínez went some way to providing the answer for the striking dilemma of the decade: Who, If Anyone, Should Partner Salomón Rondón?  The West Brom striker has often looked more involved and participated in more direct moves when the younger, pacier, Torino forward has been playing a supplementary role. There were glimpses of this against Peru, particularly when the pair began Venezuela’s first-half re-emergence into proceedings as a fast-paced counter-attack led to the pair combining with Martínez ultimately only being denied by an impressive save. Unfortunately, as Rondón picked up his second booking of the campaign, they will not be reprising their partnership against Chile. Nevertheless, as things stand, if in future games Sanvicente opts to give Rondón some close on-field support, Martínez is surely currently ahead of the likes of Christian Santos, Richard Blanco and Adalberto Peñaranda in the pecking order.

Lastly, though in the immediate aftermath of this result nobody really wishes to hear this, the Venezuelan side, much of which was lacking in familiarity with one another, showed great character through most of the game. After 25 minutes, a defeat by at least two or three goals seemed likely and the thought that they could ever be two clear goals in front away to Peru could only have come from the mind of the most optimistic futurologist predicting a distant age at least a generation from now. To withstand the early tide and then play effectively within their limitations in order to gain their first point of the campaign represents progress. To follow this up with a strong showing against Chile at the ground of Sanvicente’s former club Zamora would do much for fan and team morale.

Team Selections

Peru (4-4-2): Gallese; Advíncula, Zambrano, Ascues, Vargas; Ballón, Tapia (Lobatón. 51′), Cuevas, Farfán (Flores, 60′); Pizarro (Ruidíaz, 60′), Guerrero.

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Faría, Ángel, Vizcarrondo, Villanueva; Juanpi (Guerra, 70′), Rincón, Figuera, Otero (Cermeño, 81′); S. Rondón, Martínez (Peñaranda, 70′).

Darren Spherical


Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – March 2016 Preview

With Venezuela having lost their opening four World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Hispanospherical.com looks at the state of a somewhat unfamiliar squad ahead of the latest round of qualifiers.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 24 March 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Lima, Lima

Peru vs Venezuela

Tuesday 29 March 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Venezuela vs Chile


Chile-based Rómulo Otero is one of several Venezuelans looking to make their mark.

Familiar Issues Surround a Squad with Some Unfamiliar Faces

Suprise Omissions Open Some Doors in Attack

While there does not appear to have been a mass culling of stars – or, conversely, a boycott – familiar issues nevertheless abound for Venezuela boss Noel Sanvicente, who is set to field some unfamiliar faces in his nation’s latest round of Russia 2018 qualifiers.

Indeed, although only seven of the 15 signatories of November’s bombshell letter criticising the country’s football association (FVF) (and, to a lesser extent, the national team set-up) have been called up, most of the omissions can be justified without recourse to conspiracy theorising.

Most, that is, but – in the minds of many Vinotinto fans – perhaps not all. While the exclusion of stalwarts such as Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cichero and César González can be explained away via a combination of their age, lack of recent success with the national team and/or little match-time at club level, there are two notable exceptions.

One, Christian Santos, has been amongst the most prominent Venezuelans abroad over the past eighteen months, first firing NEC Nijmegen to promotion to the Dutch Eredivisie where, more recently, he has continued his impressive goalscoring exploits (15 goals in 26 league games). During this period, he also made his long-awaited international debut – scoring against Brazil in October along the way – and many have envisaged him being a key player for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly then, his absence has not gone down well in several quarters; national sports daily Líder En Deportes reflected this sentiment, in one article emphasing his exclusion above all others. However, his relatively new status and presumed lack of authority within the squad surely precludes him from having been a ringleader in the uprising.

Another similarly fan-infuriating omission is that of Ronald Vargas. Since rejuvenating his injury-hit career last year in Turkey, the 29-year-old attacker has gone from strength to strength this season at current club AEK Athens. In Greece he has garnered many effusive headlines and back/front-page splashes, scoring nine league goals, including in each of his side’s 1-0 wins against close-rivals Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and PAOK. He too seems an unlikely rebel, having enjoyed his most consistent spell in the national side under Sanvicente since he first burst onto the scene just under a decade ago.

Instead, no matter how baffling it may appear to many, it seems that the two players have been left out for footballing reasons. Sanvicente has said as much, commenting that he wishes to experiment with other players further up the field. Given his side’s lack of success in this area despite a seemingly disproportionate amount of talent in these positions, he may well prove to be vindicated. However, as changes in the attacking personnel have already frequently been made and selection controversies seem to surround every convocatoria, many fans have long ago reached the conclusion that the problem lies more with the boss than the men at his disposal.

Nevertheless, where there is frustration there is perhaps also the future, as Sanvicente has instead called up some of the nation’s most promising prospects. 18-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda has forced himself into the international scene much earlier than anticipated, owing to some impressive performances and goals for Granada. In a breathtakingly short space of time, he has earned a first-team place, broken a goalscoring record once held by Lionel Messi and has become one of the most famous Venezuelan legionarios. Despite reported interest from many leading European sides, he has already been snapped up by Granada’s sister club Watford, though will remain in Andalusia for the time being. This will be his first ever international call-up.

He is joined in the squad by Juanpi, another impressive La Liga starlet who, particularly in the past few months, has shone and participated in many goals for a rejuvenated Málaga. This has been his ‘breakthrough season’ and his performances coupled with his regular first-team appearances have seemingly made it impossible for Sanvicente to continue to frustrate fans by overlooking him.

Incidentally, 2015/16 has been a memorable year for Venezuelans in La Liga; along with these two individuals, Roberto Rosales has been an ever-present for Málaga and Miku impressively broke a scoring record for Rayo Vallecano (5 goals in 5 consecutive top-flight games). The latter man is only absent from the current squad due to an injury occurring at the most inauspicious of times.

Another attacker seeking a starting place is perhaps the most likeliest of the three to do so. Rómulo Otero, who over the past year has struggled with injuries at inopportune moments, has many admirers who see him as the leading creative catalyst of a new era; a mean free-kick taker, he has recently spoken to the local press about the possibility of taking over set-piece duties from the retired maestro Juan Arango. Plying his trade at Huachipato, he will be a familiar face to many Chile fans when La Roja travel to Barinas for the 29 March clash.

A Far Less Experienced Rearguard

Overall, owing to the suspensions of Luis Manuel Seijas, ‘Sema’ Velázquez and Roberto Rosales for the first game against Peru, Sanvicente has called up a bumper 26-man squad for this double-header. The absences of these latter two defenders, plus the relatively recent international retirement of Fernando Amorebieta and the omissions of Andrés Túñez and Gabriel Cichero have opened many doors – and perhaps even more holes – in the Venezuelan rearguard. Indeed, the one remaining regular, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, is likely to be in a defensive unit with three men who have barely a dozen caps between them.

Last month’s inclusion in the 1-0 win against Costa Rica (both fielded understrength sides) has no doubt bolstered the starting prospects of domestic league players such as centre-backs Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Tachira) and Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira), as well as right-back Ángel Faría (Zamora FC). Mikel Villanueva, who plays for Málaga’s reserve side Atlético Malagueño, also impressed last month and could well start at left-back. His main competition comes from Caracas FC’s Rubert Quijada, a man who has contributed to a miserly club defence but who has largely been overlooked at international level. Lastly, another defender receiving a rare call-up is Víctor García, a 21-year-old who primarily plays at right-back for Porto’s B team but who has also featured on the bench of the first team a couple of times this season. Though few Venezuelans have seen much of him in recent times, owing to his club affiliation as much as the desperation for improvement at the back, many are optimistic of this young man’s future.

Not entirely dissimilar issues concern the defensive midfield berths as a few domestic league players who rarely make competitive international starts have received call-ups. With regular first-team member Seijas out of the Peru game and late concerns being raised on the fitness of captain Tomás Rincón, it is possible that a very inexperienced and unfamiliar Venezuela takes to the field in Lima.

Change Needed, but What Kind?

Ultimately, with Sanvicente still in his post despite having overseen largely disappointing performances and results that currently place Venezuela bottom of CONMEBOL qualifying without a point, it may be a stretch to call these games ‘must-win’. Indeed, supposed crisis talks were held after the last round of losses with the media and fan consensus concluding that even if the FVF wanted change they simply could not afford it. Thus, although another two defeats will undoubtedly raise the calls for his head to unprecedented levels, Sanvicente has not really given off the impression that his future rests upon these two games.

Nevertheless, even if – as many people feel – Venezuela are already out of realistic contention for a Russia 2018 place, as well as playing for pride and progression, there is also this June’s Copa América  tournament to  consider. Their opponents will surely bring back memories of last year’s competition, with Chile having emerged victors on home soil and Peru playing a significant role in the eventual exit of Sanvicente & co. Indeed, had Amorebieta not been sent off in the second group game against Los Incas, many Venezuelan fans are keen to believe that they ultimately would not have fallen to a late 1-0 defeat and instead secured at least a point that would have been enough to make the knock-out stages.

Although not considered one of the region’s heavyweights, as Peru finished third in that competition, they certainly present a stern challenge, especially in Lima. If only to improve public relations, Sanvicente and his charges know they could well do with a good result or two from these two encounters, though it is difficult to say which game presents the better opportunity to do so. While he will be missing some well-known and much-capped individuals – particularly in the opening game – this nevertheless opens the door for new approaches and players. Given that a lack of stability, continuity and cohesion have been hallmarks of his 20-month reign, these are not things that fans can easily feel optimistic about. However, for very similar reasons, nor can they dismiss them outright as evidently there are problems that, for the sake of a rather promising generation of Venezuelan footballers, urgently need to be solved.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (AEK Athens), José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñéz (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Tachira), Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira),  Ángel Faría (Zamora FC), Víctor García (Porto), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga), Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Arles Flores (Zamora FC), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional), Jhon Murillo (CD Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Rómulo Otero (CD Huachipato, on loan from Caracas FC), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe),  Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora FC).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Josef Martínez (Torino), Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, on loan from Watford), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

Darren Spherical


Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (17 November 2015)

The fourth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the fourth consecutive defeat for Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador

Video Highlights of Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 17 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Contrasting Fortunes in Puerto Ordaz

What began as bottom versus top ended as bottom versus top yet, for now at least, Noel Sanvicente is still the Venezuela manager. A replacement had been rumoured beforehand and at least another one has been linked since the final whistle was blown in a disenchanted Cachamay stadium. Although Chita emphatically ruled out resigning immediately after this fourth consecutive qualifying loss, he is not really in a position to determine his own fate. With four months from now until matchday five, the Federación Venezolana de Fútbol (FVF) have got considerable time to weigh up how they envisage the remainder of the seemingly doomed Russia 2018 campaign. This may be partially revealed as soon as Monday 23 November, as a meeting with Sanvicente has been scheduled.

Before kick-off, fan discontent was already high, a fact reflected in the vast numbers of empty seats – a far cry from a near-full crowd of 35,076 who turned up to the Estadio José Antonio Anzoátegui for the same fixture three years ago. Much of the Puerto Ordaz public no doubt felt scarred and short-changed from the three other dreadful Vinotinto encounters that have taken place in the same ground over the past two months. Nevertheless, those who did attend brought with them some vocal, giddy, enthusiasm that could only be gradually tamed by events.

Many were excited to get a good look at a vast array of their leading representatives, all of whom currently play for overseas clubs in, remarkably, 11 different countries. This was a much-changed side from the one featuring five home-based players that was seen off by Bolivia at high altitude. It combined established cracks and familiar faces with a few individuals who many hope will be long-term regulars (namely injury-hit Rómulo Otero and the recently converted pair, Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez).

Alas, it did not take long to dissipate the rather optimistic hope that, in spite of recent performances, this encounter against CONMEBOL’s most in-form nation would be when things suddenly gel. Though the hosts just about held their own in the opening exchanges, the 11th minute witnessed Pumas striker Fidel Martínez receiving a short pass in a disconcerting amount of space before firing into the back of the net. The Venezuelan back-line breathed  a collective sigh of relief upon seeing the offside flag but their mood did not last long. Following a failed attack just four minutes later, they were caught hopelessly out of position as right-back Juan Carlos Paredes simply dinked a ball over into the central area to Martínez who had the time to control and strike home. Highlighting the hosts’ defensive woes, it was right-back Roberto Rosales – albeit, with little hope of success – who was the closest to putting in a challenge, with centre-backs Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and ‘Sema’ Velázquez never in the race.

Ecuador were apparently aware of Venezuela’s lack of pace at the back and later in the half were only narrowly denied with a couple more speed battles in open spaces that they instigated via chipped central passes.

No tactical know-how was needed for the second goal, however, though home fans will have felt a dispiriting sense of déjà vu. In the 23rd minute, it seemed Venezuela’s – and, perhaps, Sanvicente’s – fate was sealed when the pass out by goalkeeper Alain Baroja went awry. It was far too short for Vizcarrondo, who was beaten to the ball by Miller Bolaños who, in turn, nudged it to Jefferson Montero. The Swansea City winger quickly passed it back to Bolaños on the left side of the area and the Emelec man was able to return the ball to the centre for the incoming Montero, who doubled the lead with relative ease. While the culprit was different – for most observers, anyway – the goal inevitably drew comparisons with the mix-up involving Vizcarrondo and Baroja for Paraguay’s late winner  in the same ground a month ago.

Deflated on the pitch as well as in the stands, Venezuela struggled to inspire genuine hope of a comeback. Otero seemed the most likely catalyst with his occasionally testing balls into the area, bursts of pace, plus an ambitious shot or two. It was his run into the left side of the area in the 43rd minute that created a chance of sorts for Jeffrén; alas, he shot too close to goalkeeper Esteban Dreer. Just a minute prior, the ex-Barcelona wide man had fashioned a chance for himself when, from the right, he cut onto his left and struck a shot a yard or so wide from the edge of the area.

This slight momentum continued and grew in the early stages of the second half. NEC Nijmegen’s top-scorer Santos was to come close twice in as many minutes. Firstly on 52 minutes, he got onto the end of Rosales’ cross but his header, though powerful, was directed straight at Dreer. Soon afterwards, he received a flick-on by Salomón Rondón and beat Dreer to the ball, nudging it around him, though was ultimately denied by a defender guarding the exposed net.

Alas, just several minutes later as the hour mark approached, the contest was effectively over. From a break, Montero paced up the left to cross in a hanging ball that was met in space 16 yards out by Felipe Caicedo. Unmarked, the Espanyol striker powered a spectacular header into the top left-hand corner.
In the remaining thirty minutes, Ecuador continued to attack without increasing their lead. As has often recently been the case with Venezuela’s opponents, the home spectactors were left with the feeling that if their rivals had really needed at least one more goal, then they would have got it. The closest they did come, however, occurred in the 69th minute when a phenomenal 35-yard left-footed free-kick from Walter Ayoví venomously curled over the wall and then rattled off the highest point of the right-sided post.
Goal-wise at least, Venezuela were to have the last say. Their consolation came with little more than five minutes left as substitute Josef Martínez arrived unmarked at the far post to side-foot home Rosales’ cross from the right. Much as the Torino striker wanted to rouse his team-mates for an ambitious grand finale, it was the visitors who looked more likely to find the net. Indeed, as the game entered stoppage-time, Ecuador broke on a counter with at least a man advantage, but Rosales just about caught up with Walter Ayoví to commit a foul a couple of yards outside the area, for which he received a booking.
Nevertheless, with a 3-1 away victory, fans of La Tricolor will be as delighted with their fourth consecutive win as La Vinotinto followers will be dejected with their fourth straight defeat.
What follows are some thoughts on this encounter. 
Too Much Diversity? Venezuela’s Awkward Transition

Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Colombia, Italy, Chile, England, Belgium and the Netherlands. These are the countries in which the Venezuelan starting XI play their respective domestic football. All different and all overseas. Given the weakness of the Venezuelan top-flight, the latter is perhaps not so much a problem but the former surely is. While several have long-standing experience of playing together at international level, this is certainly not the case for new ‘recruits’ such as Jeffrén and Santos. These two men are past their mid-20s and have only recently become eligible to represent La Vinotinto, having moved away from Venezuela with their families while very young.

Of course, most fans are always excited to see their disparate representatives all on one field together. However, it is hard not to avoid the feeling that their distances from one another for most of the year are not really conducive to effective team play. Indeed, familiarity amongst players at club level is a huge asset for international managers who are usually short of preparation time, as has been evidenced by the last two World Cup-winning sides, Germany and Spain.

While many South American nations have their leading talents scattered across the globe (mostly in Europe), the diversity of leagues represented is easily the highest amongst the current Venezuelan crop. Although a typical Argentina or Brazil squad may draw upon talents based in seven or eight different countries, the cream of the crop largely come from no more than three or four. While recent results for these two decorated nations may not be meeting past standards, their records from the past decade or so are nevertheless envied by the vast majority of national federations.

Thus, though Venezuelans should be proud to now have so many players plying their trade in highly competitive leagues, it could well be that they are currently at a difficult transition phase in their footballing development. Indeed, while it may only provide one piece of the puzzle, in order to see more unity and cohesion on the pitch we may all have to wait until more top players are clustered in no more than a handful of different leagues. In such a scenario, irrespective of whether or not they play for the same teams, not only would they be experiencing broadly similar playing styles, surfaces, cultures etc. but there would be more opportunities to socialise off the pitch. Fostering a collective team spirit is every bit as important as a functioning playing system.

Sanvicente’s Future/Venezuela’s Regression

Another defeat for Noel Sanvicente and another unwanted record. Venezuela have now got off to their worst start in World Cup Qualifying since the campaign for USA 1994. This was in a different format and consisted of a run of seven straight losses that, on the last matchday, was ended by a solitary victory. If Chita‘s current charges are to avoid again making history for the wrong reasons, their best chance may be in the next encounter away to Peru in March – quite a challenge in itself. Otherwise, their subsequent encounters in the 18-game process are against Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. For Venezuela at least, there really are no easy games in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Such regression has understandably irked fans. Not only are the results very poor but there is no discernible style to Venezuela’s play and there is little awareness of what the manager is trying to achieve. Consequently, analyses of team performances seem increasingly unenlightening. Even if a player shows glimpses of promise – for this game, Josef Martínez’s goal and general drive to go forward should not go unremarked upon – not only does it seem relatively minor but also, they seem to have prospered in spite of, rather than because of, whatever system Sanvicente is trying to implement.

Although they may just be idle rumours, two Argentines have been linked with replacing him as national boss. Firstly, 2014 Copa Libertadores-winning Edgardo Bauza of San Lorenzo and, even more eye-raisingly, renowned maverick Marcelo Bielsa, formerly of Argentina and Chile, whose most recent job was at Marseille. Even if it does not come from either of these two men, there is certainly a threat to the position of Sanvicente and he will have to wait until Monday to discover his fate.

UPDATE (23 November 2015): Following a meeting with the FVF, Noel Sanvicente remains as the Venezuela national team manager. One casualty from the talks, however, is the Estadio Cachamay, where Venezuela have played – and lost – two qualifiers and will no longer be appearing at during this qualifying cycle.

Venezuela Also Disconcerting off the Field

Finally, it was not just a bad night for Venezuelan football but also for the nation’s politics – not to mention democracy. Indeed, towards the end of the game, some fans started chanting against the current government headed by Nicolás Maduro and were audible to those watching at home. It did not take long for those in control of the public announce system to drown these voices out with the sounds of what was most probably the first piece of music they could lay their hands on. Anyone who is familiar with the country’s media will be unsurprised to learn that this unsavoury incident largely went unreported in the leading outlets.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Velázquez, Cichero; Jeffrén (Martínez, 54′), Rincón, Lucena (Acosta, 46′), Otero; S. Rondón, Santos (M. Rondón, 68′).

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): Dreer; Paredes, Guagua, Erazo, W. Ayoví; Noboa, Quiñónez (Castillo, 70′); F. Martínez, Bolaños, Montero (Cazares, 76′); Caicedo (J. Ayoví, 82′).

Darren Spherical


Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (12 November 2015)

The third matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign brought the third consecutive loss to Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department

Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 12 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Fluid Bolivia Soundly See Off Sanvicente’s Makeshift XI

Not for the first time, a substantial strategy to combat the vertiginous altitude of La Paz was thwarted by Bolivia. This time, in a largely dominant display, La Verde bagged four goals – a feat they had not achieved since October 2012 – to emphatically end a run of five consecutive losses in all competitions. For Venezuela, it was their fifth competitive defeat on the bounce and their third straight loss in this World Cup qualifying campaign. Upon taking over in July 2014, manager Noel Sanvicente may have wanted the fans of La Vinotinto to be dreaming of Russia 2018 but already they can only think of Qatar 2022; he must now confront the very real possibility that Tuesday’s game against Ecuador may be his last. While the conditions definitely played a role in this latest reversal, Chita will have to concede that, as soon as the first ball was kicked, his charges were out-fought and his tactics were ineffective (and to some, incomprehensible). Once again, there was little on display to sway the hearts and minds of the ever-growing number of dissenters.

The hosts, coached by USA ’94 veteran Julio César Baldivieso and benefitting from having nine players in their line-up who regularly see club action in this stadium, frequently looked a threat going forward. Throughout the game, they passed and paced around with greater accuracy and purpose than their visitors, leaving observers with the impression that if they really wanted more goals, they could easily have had them.

They enjoyed much success on the flanks, particularly in the opening exchanges. With just five minutes on the clock, the irrepressible Alejandro Chumacero forced a good instinctive save from the legs of Alain Baroja, following a cross from Damián Lizio.

Despite such pressure being frequently exerted from wide positions, the opening goal on 19 minutes was more direct, albeit greatly facilitated by a defensive error. A long ball pumped towards the right-hand side was hooked by centre-back Franklin Lucena straight into more dangerous territory. Rudy Cardozo picked it up centrally some 40-plus yards from goal before rapidly feeding an incisive pass to Rodrigo Ramallo who, intentionally or otherwise, dinked the ball over Baroja.

Barely a minute later, Sanvicente was left mentally shredding up a month’s worth of preparation as Bolivia doubled their lead. Some neat interplay on the edge of the area culminated with Ramallo heading the ball on for Lizio who was barged over by Wilker Ángel. Juan Carlos Arce duly stepped up to convert the penalty to make it 2-0.

Whether a bit of complacency crept in amongst the hosts or the visitors suddenly found some attacking fluency, Venezuela’s immediate response saw them enjoy more time in opposition territory. Despite this, they were not really threatening Daniel Vaca’s goal, with Mario Rondón often chasing balls up the right but unable to put through a testing ball. Then, however, in the 33th minute, not without a little slice of luck, they were offered a lifeline. A throw from the right was touched on by Richard Blanco to captain Tomás Rincón on the edge of the area. El General did well to swiftly evade a tackle before striking a shot that was deflected towards Rondón who, in turn, just about nudged it past Vaca to halve the deficit. The Bolivian defence claimed offside but alas, the diversion had caught them out.

However, any hope of mounting a comeback was scuppered in first-half stoppage-time. A ball was sprayed out to Chucamero who was afforded considerable room on the right of the area, from where he crossed for Ramallo to head in with relative ease. 3-1.

Sanvicente appeared to want to shore things up at half-time by bringing on defender Francisco Carabalí for midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. Alas, this was to no avail as within three minutes the contest was all-but-over. Once again, Chumacero was the catalyst. With breathtaking skill, perhaps supplemented by some fortune, he received a hoisted ball on the right and, with a phenomenal first touch, gained a stately garden’s worth of space away from two defenders. He raced into the area before sliding it back to Ramallo whose shot was saved by Baroja at close range only to fall to Cardozo who, with the aid of a deflection, fired home.

Sanvicente responded by withdrawing – and, no doubt, humiliating – centre-back Ángel and replacing him with Arouca’s ‘Sema’ Velázquez, who received his first appearance under the incumbent manager. Given the already commanding scoreline and the subsequent continuation of attacking threat offered by Bolivia, it is difficult to say how much this change had in halting the concession of goals.

Nevertheless, in the 55th minute, Venezuela were to tease the eternal optimists by finding the net for a second time. Another throw-in – this time on the left – was picked up by Rondón who found Blanco on the edge of the area with a pinpoint pass. The Mineros de Guayana forward did well to take a touch to bring the ball away from his marker before striking low with his left boot. He shaped, he shot, he scored.

Despite this, Bolivia’s superiority was still very much in evidence for the remainder of the game, with attacks on the flanks as well as shots and balls fired into the area causing frequent problems for the Venezuelan rearguard. Such was the hosts’ dominance, with little more than ten minutes remaining, the La Paz crowd began to cheer their representatives’ every pass.

With eight minutes left, however, some of those in the stands may have briefly feared a previously unthinkable comeback as Venezuela put the ball into the back of the net. Luis Manuel Seijas’ corner from the left was headed against the crossbar by Rafael Acosta; from the rebound, Velázquez’s effort was saved but Rondón was able to hook it into the back of the net. Alas, the flag had already been raised – correctly – for offside.

Thus, Bolivia held on to their two-goal advantage to gain their first points of the qualifying campaign. Venezuela remain point-less and, if countering the after-effects of playing at high altitude before facing CONMEBOL leaders Ecuador (9 points) was not tough enough for Sanvicente, he will have to do it without one of his regular starters. Though it can not be said for sure that Seijas would have played anyway, he nevertheless ruled himself out in the third minute of stoppage-time, earning a straight red card; this was allegedly for comments made towards the official.

What follows are some thoughts on this latest Venezuelan setback. 

Match Thoughts

Decisions as well as Conditions Played Their Part

Despite undergoing specialist preparations with a pool of home-based talent at the national training facility (CNAR) for the past few weeks, Venezuela undoubtedly struggled with the altitude of La Paz. Only ten of those who received time with the hyperbaric chambers made the journey, with just five named in the line-up (plus one who came off the bench). Sanvicente’s selected XI consisted of a makeshift crop of individuals, many of whom have rarely, if ever, played together internationally and some of whom were only playing due to the circumstances.

Contrast this with the nine Bolivian starters (adding on two substitutes) who regularly play their domestic football at the Estadio Hernando Siles for either Bolívar or The Strongest. Indeed, all of the goalscorers and attacking threats – Chumacero, Ramallo, Cardozo, Arce and Lizio – are very much accustomed to playing at 3,600 metres above sea level in both the league as well as the Copas Libertadores and/or Sudamericana. Thus, while fielding a team with such experience undoubtedly aided the victory, their familiarity with one another for their clubs as well as their individual qualities were also major factors.

Venezuelan Rearguard Flimsy, Disorganised and/or Inexperienced

Not that these were the only reasons. For all the attacking qualities the Bolivians possessed, their routes towards goal – both through the middle and from the flanks – were greatly enabled by their opponents. Indeed, despite four of Venezuela’s starting midfielders – Rincón, Figuera, Acosta and Seijas – either being defence-minded or having experience of providing extra protection to the back four, acres of space was often gifted away. Furthermore, of the back line, only the experienced Lucena can be considered a regular; whereas Alexander González, a right-back or right-winger for his club Young Boys, was hopelessly exposed at left-back; the two home-based youngsters – 20-year-old debutant right-back Jefre Vargas and, especially, 21-year-old centre-back Ángel – will not wish to recall their rare outings any time soon.

On all four goals, there was more than one error of note. For the opener, Lucena’s poor clearance gifted plenty of space in the middle for Cardozo who, in turn, was not closed down and was instead able to rapidly pick a pass between the defenders for Ramallo to finish. On the second, Bolivia’s attackers were able to knock the ball between themselves in a central area before Ángel’s foul gave away the penalty. On the third, Chumacero had an abundance of time and space on González’s right-hand side to pick out a cross for Ramallo to nod home ahead of Ángel and Lucena. Similarly for the fourth, Chumacero glided into a huge free area in the right side of the area before Ramallo again beat the central defenders to the cross, with his shot being saved before Cardozo latched onto the rebound.

This is without detailing all the other chances that were created  on Baroja’s goal. Undeniably then, Sanvicente’s tactics and choice of defensive personnel were also factors in the loss. Given that many of these players would not be likely starters in regular playing conditions, they can consider this a squandered personal opportunity to make their presence count on this stage. Between them, they were responsible for the second-highest number of goals conceded in a match under Sanvicente (runners-up only to those involved in the 5-0 mauling dished out by Chile this time last year).

Experienced Men Stand Out in Attack but do they Possess a Future?

Despite the two goals, there are not many in the attacking positions who could be said to have done themselves many favours in the long run. It is perhaps asking a bit much to expect any attacking fluency and well-worked moves from individuals who rarely play in the same line-up but all the same, there was little of this on show. Indeed, of the starters, only Seijas can be considered a regular and he normally plays for his country just ahead of the back four, as opposed to on the left of midfield. He caused some problems from set-pieces but his red card at the death will have not helped his personal cause.

Mario Rondón will doubtless feel emboldened, not only scoring but also having a hand in the second goal as well as finding the net again towards the end – albeit after an offside flag had been raised. He regularly chased balls and with three goals since Sanvicente took over (albeit one of these has since been chalked off, through no fault of the player), he is having the best phase of his international career. Alas, with under 15 caps to his name and his thirtieth birthday approaching in March, Rondón is not well-placed to make a long-term claim for a starting spot. Indeed, he is not really an out-and-out striker and faces competition from numerous versatile attacking players, many of whom are just emerging and are tipped to be fixtures of the selección for the best part of the next decade.  That said, as he was omitted from the Copa América squad, one suspects he will at least derive some contentment from any future call-ups, having been largely ignored outright by previous managers.

Age is even more of a concern for the other attacker of note, 33-year-old Mineros de Guayana striker Richard Blanco. Nevertheless, he took his goal very well and also played a minor role in Rondón’s strike.

Although both men may struggle to get onto the pitch in future, Sanvicente must glean some satisfaction from the fact that both of their goals started via the same route: a throw-in. Indeed, this was not too dissimilar from the history-making Salomón Rondón goal against Colombia in June that had its origins in a Roberto Rosales throw. While in all of these situations, the touchline hoist may have been far from the decisive factor, it is a curious coincidence and most likely has its roots on the training ground. Although Venezuela still urgently need to broaden their attacking arsenal, this particular weapon does at least show they can always offer a surprise irrespective of their general performance.

Sanvicente’s Last Stand on Tuesday? 

Much of this speculation regarding the national team’s future could soon either be discarded or moderated as a change in leadership could well be in the offing. Indeed, the dissent that has long been a feature of Noel Sanvicente’s reign has grown considerably in recent months and increases with every disappointing result. This defeat was the sixth in Venezuela’s last seven games (with the other match being a dire home draw against Panama). Scurious internet rumours and managerial wishlists have since evolved into published articles suggesting possible replacements; questions regarding Sanvicente’s position have made it into at least a couple of press conferences. There is a growing feeling that Tuesday’s home game against Ecuador could well be Chita‘s last game in charge.

Although now is not yet the time to write an obituary, things have undoubtedly regressed during his 16-month reign, giving younger fans a taste of what the dark pre-boom years were like before the nation were viable underdogs. Indeed, despite the opening day win against Colombia, the failure to get out of their group in this year’s Copa América was their worst performance since 2004’s competition. Similarly, their three consecutive defeats mark their worst start to a World Cup qualifying campaign since their opening games of the preliminary stage of Japan/South Korea 2002.

Though the Venezuelan football association (FVF) has been relatively quiet on their manager’s position, it is hard not to escape the feeling that much is riding on Tuesday’s home clash in Puerto Ordaz. For this bottom-versus-top encounter with Ecuador, Sanvicente will welcome back leading players such as Salomón Rondón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo; they are tipped to be supplemented by the bright new things (at international leve, at least), Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez.

At this point, a sudden turnaround that catalyses and transforms the campaign seems rather unlikely. Not only have the players frequently been on the wrong end of scorelines in both competitive and friendly action, but they have also deserved to be. Unsurprisingly, they have rarely seemed particularly happy when out on the field; whether that is simply due to the results or the system under which they are playing is difficult to discern. Nevertheless, one can not help but feel that if Sanvicente is to keep his job, this does heavily hinge upon whether his players, particularly the most senior ones, really want him to. Regardless of how low Venezuela’s chances of making Russia 2018 already seem, many players know that Qatar 2022 is too late for them. For such players as well as many fans, when placed in such a scenario, patience does not seem like much of a virtue. The final whistle in Puerto Ordaz awaits.

Team Selections

Bolivia (4-4-2): Vaca; Saavedra, Zenteno, Marteli, Morales; Arce (Eguino, 86′), Chumacero, Veizaga, Lizio (Duk, 78′); Cardozo, Ramallo (Arrascaita, 58′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): Baroja, J. Vargas (Falcón, 65′), Ángel (Velázquez, 50′), Lucena, A. González; Acosta, Rincón, Figuera (Carabalí, 46′); M. Rondón, Seijas; Blanco. (The formation alternated somewhat; sometimes a 4-3-3, other times a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1).

Darren Spherical


Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – November 2015 Preview

With Venezuela having lost their opening two World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Hispanospherical.com looks at the situation facing manager Noel Sanvicente, his team’s preparations for their visit to high-altitude La Paz to face Bolivia as well as the notable call-ups for this game and the subsequent home encounter with Ecuador.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department

Bolivia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela vs Ecuador
Sanvicente Urgently Needs to Give Fans Something to Cheer About

Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department, Bolivia, where Venezuela play on 12 November 2015. (Photo courtesy of David Freeman who travelled to 67 football matches across Latin America. Read more about his adventures here

‘I am not a coward, I won’t resign’. So proclaimed Venezuela boss Noel Sanvicente last month at a lengthy press conference shortly after his nation’s Russia 2018 qualifying campaign had been inaugurated with two straight defeats. The 3-1 loss away to Brazil may have been largely anticipated, but the embarrassing late defensive mix-up that caused a 1-0 reversal in the opener in Puerto Ordaz at home to Paraguay certainly irked fans, greatly lowering morale at the first hurdle. Coming off the back of poor friendly performances and the failure to reach the knock-out stages of Copa América 2015, many fans ran out of patience with Chita.

The ex-Caracas and Zamora director técnico has lost considerable goodwill in his 16 months in charge. Results have not met expectations, displays have been lacklustre and most players have struggled to replicate their club form. Regarding this last point, given the tactical incoherence repeatedly exhibited as well as the high number of attackers fielded with similarly incohesive results, many point the finger of blame at Sanvicente as his intentions continue to puzzle and bewilder.

In further comments to the media, while he acknowledged some of the criticism and accepted responsibility, he seemed unwilling to consider a fundamental shift in his approach. Instead, amongst other things, he lamented the ‘accident’ involving Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Alain Baroja that gifted the win to La Albirroja and also remarked upon the superior club levels that many of his country’s opponents play at – an observation that ‘you don’t have to be Harry Potter to see’.

Before Sanvicente categorically stated that the thought of ‘resigning doesn’t go through my head’, he also reiterated that ‘my thing is work, work and more work’. Weary words for many Vinotinto fans as ‘all work and no play’ would certainly be a succinctly apt assessment of his goal-shy reign to date.

Under pressure, currently point-less and in charge of the lowest ranked nation in CONMEBOL (83rd), Sanvicente knows that all this much-vaunted labour must be converted into positive results as soon as possible. This month’s challenges from fellow strugglers Bolivia as well as injury-hit high-flyers Ecuador, while certainly substantial and seemingly with the potential to send Chita scurrying out of a job, do also offer opportunities to reinvigorate the cause. However, though he has claimed his methods will not be changing any time soon, the personnel definitely will be – more so than at any other point since he took up the post.

Venezuelan Preparations: Bumper-sized Squad to Help Cope With High Altitude  

Indeed, Thursday’s trip to La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles – over 3,600 metres (nearly 12,000 feet) above sea-level – serves up all kinds of logistical issues that South American nations have attempted to counteract in differing ways. Sanvicente has opted to call up an enlarged squad of 33 players, with 20 of them making the journey to Bolivia; these comprise of an equal mixture of ten home-based individuals and ten, largely more established, legionarios who ply their trade abroad. Several of the latter possess experience of playing at high altitude at club and/or international level but it is those currently featuring in the transitory Torneo Adecuación who have undergone the greatest preparation ahead of this game.

For the past three weeks or so, they have been training at La Vinotinto‘s National Centre of High Performance (CNAR) facility on the northerly Isla de Margarita. Ideally, physical trainer Rodolfo Paladini said he would have liked 17 consecutive days with the players but due to club commitments for some – though not all – this was somewhat problematic. Nevertheless, when available, this domestic crop have been spending time in hyperbaric chambers which are intended to help users experience and acclimatise to simulated high-altitude conditions.

In the few days preceding the game, the overseas-based contingent have gradually been joining up with them at CNAR and today, Wednesday 11th, the 20-strong group flew to Bolivia. However, rather than travel straight to La Paz, they are instead staying in the relatively low-altitude Santa Cruz de la Sierra (416 metres above sea-level). Tomorrow on matchday, they will embark on a get-in-and-get-out strategy as they shall enter the city of the fixture no more than two hours before kick-off; some Bolivia-based portable chambers have been hired to assist any breathing problems they may experience. Almost as soon as the game is concluded, the squad will then take an aeroplane back to the national training centre.

A calculated risk, no doubt, though far from the first time something like this has been deployed by a South American nation. The altitude issue has been a bone of contention for decades and FIFA resolutions have been passed more than once (notably in 1995 and 2007) to ban international games in La Paz, though these were subsequently repealed. It is undeniable that even if not all of Bolivia’s players are accustomed to high-altitude conditions, they have more than enough who are and this has been a partial factor in many victories over some of the continent’s heavyweights. Anyone resistant to this argument may wish to briefly peruse the nation’s woeful record away from home – their Copa América win against Ecuador in June was their first competitive victory on foreign soil since 1995.

Nevertheless, though their home advantage has attained near-mythical status over the years and casual observers may consider a visit from CONMEBOL’s lowest-ranking team as a banker win for La Verde, this is far from assured. Indeed, in the past two visits during World Cup Qualifying campaigns Venezuela have attained a 1-1 draw (in 2013, when Juan Arango’s last international goal was cancelled out with four minutes left) and a 1-0 win (in 2009 via an own goal; this was during the same qualification cycle in which Bolivia beat Argentina 6-1 and Brazil 2-1).

If, however, they are unable to get a result, the pressure will be on to get one against Ecuador – no mean feat as La Tricolor are riding high following two consecutive wins, the first of which being a sensational 2-0 away triumph against under-fire Tata Martino’s Argentina. Though they will be missing key-man Antonio Valencia, they have strength in depth and will fancy their chances as last month’s heroics came without Enner Valencia, Michael Arroyo or Renato Ibarra on the pitch (and who are all injured this time around). The likes of Jefferson Montero and Felipe Caicedo promise to offer the Venezuelan backline a consistent threat throughout the game.

Again though, La Vinotinto have a strong recent qualifying record in this particular fixture, drawing the last encounter 1-1 and winning the preceding two 3-1. Post-La Paz, after the full Venezuela squad reconvenes at CNAR, they will head over to Puerto Ordaz for this game looking to give the Estadio Cachamay public something to cheer about. Indeed, not only did the 1-0 debacle against Paraguay occur at this ground but in September it was also the site of two dreadful displays: a 3-0 reversal meted out by Honduras which was followed by a 1-1 draw with Panama on a bog of a pitch. An on-field apology of sorts is very much in order.

Predicting who will line-up for this second fixture is only marginally more problematic than that of the Bolivia game. Nevertheless, what follows is a brief overview of some players to look out for in the upcoming week, starting with the La Paz trip.


20-man Venezuela squad for the trip to face Bolivia in La Paz (photo: @SeleVinotinto)

Players to Keep an Eye Out For

‘The following are the matches of our lives. We have to go out with impetus. [We] can not give away more points.’ Experienced Franklin Lucena understands the significance of these two games and will more than likely start in La Paz, either as a central defender or a holding midfielder. This is owing to his club outings this season at Colombia’s Once Caldas who play home matches at over 2,000 metres above sea-level and who are accustomed to similar levels of altitude in certain away matches. For similar reasons, Luis Manuel Seijas of Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe has also been touted for a place in the line-up. If both men start, then Lucena will be more than likely at the back with Seijas partnering captain Tomás Rincón in defensive midfield – that is, if El General of Genoa has recovered from his injury.

First-team spots have also been rumoured for the versatile right-back/wide-man Alexander González (Young Boys) and centre-back Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), who both scored the last time Venezuela played in La Paz in a 3-2 defeat in November 2014. So long as he has shaken off his minor injury then first-choice goalkeeper Alain Baroja (AEK Athens) will be between the sticks. Once again, the attacking positions are the hardest to predict though, if utilised effectively, there is certainly talent in the 20-man squad: Josef Martínez (Torino), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Juan Falcón (Metz) and Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright) may all be granted a chance to wangle their respective ways into the long-term thinking of Chita.

Regarding potential starters from the home-based crop, aside from Ángel, few strong rumours exist though Sanvicente has said he is keen on giving youth a chance. If he follows through on this, many fans will be keen to see international debuts granted to 20-year-olds Carlos Cermeño, a highly rated defence-minded player at Táchira, and Caracas’ attacking full-back, Jefre Vargas. However, one youngster who will not be featuring is the league’s top-scorer, 21-year-old Manuel Arteaga who, despite intiially being called up to the full squad, was the victim of some kind of communication failure between his club and country and so was unable to make the trip. On a more experienced note, midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira) can not be too far away from a starting berth, having featured as a substitute against Brazil.

Who from this group will be in a state to play against Ecuador is anyone’s guess though it can be said with the closest thing to certainty that the following cracks will start in Puerto Ordaz: right-back Roberto Rosales (Málaga), centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) and striker Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

The locals as well as most fans will also be keen to see Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez, two men born in the state but who were raised in other countries and who have only in the past year acquired the relevant citizenship documentation to represent La Vinotinto. The former in particular has been in eye-catching form, banging in 9 goals in 12 games for NEC Nijmegen in his debut season in the Dutch Eredivisie. The latter has also shown promising form as he seeks to revitalise his career with KAS Eupen, who currently reside at the top of the Belgian second tier. One other individual who, due to injury troubles, is featuring in his first international squad since he ran the show away to Honduras in February is 23-year-old Rómulo Otero (Huachipato). For some, a possible successor to Juan Arango, this Chile-based playmaker has long been tipped for a long-term spell in the first team.

Alas, this is all largely educated conjecture at this stage. On matchdays, Sanvicente’s line-ups tend to be revealed in advance to the press, so those interested in being in the know at least a couple of hours before kick-off should either return to this page for a short update or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. Otherwise, enjoy the games and feel free to return for some thoughts on them in the upcoming week.

UPDATE (12 November): This, courtesy of @SoccerDataVEN, is the Venezuela line-up that will face Bolivia:


Full Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (AEK Athens), José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) and Wuilker Faríñez (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Mineros de Guayana), Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Mineros de Guayana), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Jefre Vargas (Caracas FC), José Manuel Velásquez (Arouca) and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Jacobo Kouffati (Deportivo Lara), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe) and Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Falcón (Metz), Josef Martínez (Torino), Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen) and Jeffren Suárez (KAS Eupen),

Notes: Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham) and Juan Pablo Añor (Málaga) were initially called up to the 33-man squad but have since been ruled out due to injury.

Also, Manuel Arteaga (Zulia) was also in the initial squad but has been unable to join up with the group following a communication problem between his club and the Venezuelan football association (FVF).

Darren Spherical